Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts

Visiting with Sandra Stone

Flora, Then and Now: Fictional Interviewer Interviews Sandra Stone

Author of “Reading the Flamingo’s Smile”



Think this: there are some faces that stop you in your tracks. If you’re a writer, you’re already on it inventing narrative for the face. If you happen in another part of your life to rummage in flea shops looking for you have no idea—stop! We’re compatriots. 

Are you normally so ebullient, your diction so stressed?

Yes. I like a little cluster of colloquial-isms to support a word that would otherwise be lost to the language, so rich and various. I like the archaic and obsolete. I like to box the ear. 

You found Flora just how?

She was a glass plate negative propped on a shelf.


Yes, I found myself in thrall to a web of intricate fictions I began at once to cobble.

Please explain.

An object may fuel desire hidden in the frozen cellar, our subconscious.

How do you access your subconscious?

I drowse. I dive. I plumb. I have always known I could lead as many as three, four parallel lives. Sans opiate. A concerted journey.

Are you suggesting you….

Not at all. Nor was it love at first sight, no. Not until Flora averted her eyes. Flora! a name that suits botanicals and women of a certain vintage. Phantasmal beings. I became obsessed with what I dimly apprehended.


Have you ever gravitated across a room to a person or object that appeared to be summoning you?

How does this reflect your writing process?

I am getting to that. I can create a convergence where none exists. I can juggle five sorry hats. Flora’s nose and hat—rather imposing. Then, too, mannish suit. Hardly a discernible bosom. As an apparition, I have seen better.

At what point….

I felt impelled to visit an idiosyncratic archival photographer of my acquaintance. I’ll spare you the laconic scratching of the head. “1879,”he said. I went out the door straight into a headwind that harried me toward the library.

Is this your writing process?

Yes, by intuiting in wretched weather. Momentum upside.


I wait until a dim light appears at the brink of my impeded travel.

It is then you begin to write?

No. I ruminate, censor downed. I doze by bee-buzz at daybreak. I see once again the fly, a black speck, on the crocheted swag blown by the breeze at the half-open sash. A sensory world!

Flora? About Flora!

Up the sagging steps of the Beaux Arts Library I found at once in the files what I sought. What was the news in ’79? Charles Darwin! Lewis Carroll! They were all the mutter at men’s clubs. I could see Flora in her brother’s clothing, cloaked in night, buying forbidden books. That’s when it popped into my head—Flora II is the obvious descendant of Flora ‘79, daughter of a learn’d family.

That’s when?

Not then. It came to me Flora needed validity, an alma mater, a photo with a pal, a letter from a rejected suitor written in flowery prose. A pressed bud. A scroll. Perhaps a photo of the great man himself.

Darwin accounted then for her preoccupations?

…with the mating habits of organisms, larger species. Homo sapiens! Under salacious glassine interleaves. I made a box for the containment of these small seductive items, parchments in ecru, ivory, tiny envelopes. I boxed history. History sells. A book fair snapped them up without the poem. Not yet written.

This is what you undergo as a writer?

No. What people undergo in the throes of art. Rapture. Flora II required antecedents, a reason her genes drove her at midnight to the pen.


I had been reading Lewis Thomas, a naturalist. When I came to the key chapter I was gob-smacked. Thomas stole into the pen at midnight to court a flamingo. I suppose this spoils it for you that there was a germ so to speak in a Petri dish sprung from a glass plate negative.

It’s no hair off my head.

Did I know I was going to put a war, maxims, a shower door into a poem when I thought pink? No. That is an example of my process of deranging the lingo.

Are you, have you ever been either pinko or in a correctional facility?

Never. I said cellar. I said harangue. I suggest you take up a different occupation where being adept at double entendre, nimble leaps, wire-walking on a narrow ledge are not requisite. The writing biz is too precarious to be left to the earnest stroller. Carroll might well have remarked you’re unfit, a piece of weasel-work. Be off before I kick you downstairs.

How dare you threaten my person!

Personhood. Personage. Parsonage. Airy persiflage. Thanks for dropping by.

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